Stephens' technique churns out champions

April 24, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

At the ripe old age of 23, her college swimming career behind her, Julie Gorman pointed her life in another, yet familiar, direction.

Out of swimming for three months and away from her old coach, Murray Stephens of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, for five years, Gorman this month returned to the pool, and to Stephens.

Her goal: to make the U.S. Olympic team next year.

One of her NBAC training mates, and Stephens' newest child prodigy, is Anita Nall. Nine years Gorman's junior, Nall is the Towson High freshman who broke the American record in the 200-meter breaststroke and came within 37/100ths of a second of the world mark in the Phillips 66/U.S. Spring Nationals this month in Seattle.

Gorman, who also went to Towson High, swam for Stephens for 10 years.

"I always swam well for Murray," Gorman said. "I have confidence him."

In college, first at Miami and then at Florida, Gorman won four NCAA titles and three U.S. national crowns, but failed to make the 1988 Olympics.

What drew Gorman back to Stephens was the smallness of his NBAC group (89 swimmers ranging in age from 6 to 23) and his coaching ability.

"It's his emphasis on stroke technique and his patience in teaching it," Gorman said. "He's the best at that of anyone I've been around. I need to go back to the basics, and he has the patience and willingness to go back with me."

Stephens has had a hand in the development of other leading local swimmers, including Theresa Andrews, the 1984 Olympic 100-meter backstroke champion; Pat Kennedy, eighth in the Olympic 200-meter butterfly the same year; and others such as Jill Johnson, Polly Winde, Julie Kole and Wendy Weinberg.

Kennedy, now a chiropractor about to open a practice in Rockville, was the star of Stephens' Loyola High team for four years. He echoes Gorman.

"Murray teaches incredible stroke technique," Kennedy said. "All through college people commented on my good technique. That built the foundation and carried me on further.

"In practice, he wouldn't let you swim one stroke poorly. He'd stop you -- he'd stop the whole team -- and deliver his lecture right there on the deck, spit flying out of his mouth and everything."

Stephens, 44, who swam at Loyola High and then at Loyola College, joined with Tim Pierce in forming NBAC in 1968. Pierce, who was three years ahead of Stephens at Loyola College, was '' at the outset the head coach of both the Loyola High team and NBAC age-groupers, who still train at the school. Pierce is currently director of Loyola's sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Stephens was at first an English teacher who dabbled in coaching. Now his avocation has become his profession, and he teaches only 10 hours of English a week.

In addition to coaching NBAC and the Loyola varsity team, Stephens teaches life guard training and monitors and maintains the pool. He bought the outdoor, 50-meter Meadowbrook pool a few years ago, and now trains his swimmers there during the summer.

"Our one goal is to prove that a small, personal, well-run club can provide an outstanding athletic experience for kids and produce representative athletes for national competition," Stephens said.

"Demanding? Yes, but no more so than piano or gymnastics and not as demanding as figure skating. We ask that kids have a desire to test themselves and be tested to their full potential. That is, see how good you can be.

"An 8-year-old can deal with no more than 3 1/2 hours of practice a week. That goes up to 15 to 24 hours for a Julie Gorman, year round."

When Stephens got married five years ago, he got more than a wife; he got another assistant coach. Patty, now 28, was a coach when they met. She often brings their two kids -- Reilly, 2 1/2 , and Kerry, 6 months -- to practice and meets.

Stephens takes pride in the fact that NBAC ranks at or near the top according to several national barometers.

The American Swimming Coaches Association publishes monthly a list of top times by swimmers 14 and under. The times are submitted voluntarily, "but virtually all of the best teams do it," Stephens said. The current list ranks NBAC No. 1.

"U.S. Swimming has compiled a list of the all-time top times for age-groupers 18 and under," Stephens said. "The NBAC girls have one out of every 65 of those times, the boys one out of every 100."

Not all swimmers remain with Stephens throughout their careers. For example, Winde, now married to Milwaukee Brewers catcher B.J. Surhoff, left NBAC in the early 1980s for the Germantown Aquatic Club in suburban Philadelphia. Kole trains with that club now.

"Some swimmers feel they've gone as far as they can go in a particular program," Stephens said. "Others feel they're not communicating with the coach as well as they used to and want a change."

No one is more aware of that than Dr. Sam Freas, the executive director of the National Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has known Stephens since they were 9 years old.

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